The magnetic hard disk is now a venerable storage medium but it still delivers the best storage space bang for your buck. While not as fast as new-fangled SSDs, there are many simple ways to improve the performance and reliability of the classic hard disk. Even, if you're already running a solid state drive in your machine, there are still a few optimization tweaks to improve the reliability of your zippy new storage device. Read on for tips, tricks, and utilities to get the best out of your HDD or SSD!
HDs: Partition your drive!
One of the most useful tweaks for traditional hard drive is to partition it into multiple volumes. Partitioning has many benefits, such as keeping your OS files separate from your other data (allowing for cleaner and safer installs with less risk to your other stored files), keeping your page file separate from your other files, increased reliability (file system corruption errors that might knock out one partition may not affect other partitions), the ability to set up multi-boot systems (such as Windows 7 on one boot partition and Linux on another), and more. You can read about the benefits (and downsides) of partitioning here.
Windows already comes with partition management tools, and can partition your drives on installation. We'll also feature a few third party partition management tools at the end of this article.
Regular Maintenance: Defragment regularly
File fragmentation occurs when pieces of a particular file are scattered in multiple locations on a hard disk's physical surface. A fragmented file takes longer to access and read as the hard disk head has to spin further to access all of the file's the fragments. You can prevent excessive file fragmentation by running a defragmenter program that will physically piece the files back together. The program copies the scattered parts of files and then moves them into a solid block on the physical surface of the drive, thereby making file access faster and more efficient.
To access Windows' default defrag tools, simply right click on a drive in Explorer, go to the Properties-> Tools tab and look for Defragment. From there, you can select analyze drives for fragmentation, run a defrag, or set Windows to run a defrag on an automaticschedule (highly recommended). That's more than enough for many users, but we'll also feature other third-party defrag software at the end of the article.
Regular Maintenance: Empty Recycle Bin & Browser Cache
Windows stores files you delete in the Recycle Bin, allowing you to recover them in case of accidental deletion. Regularly checking and emptying the Recycle Bin will allow you to save even more space. You can also skip the "delete to Recycle Bin" part of the equation by Shift+Clicking on the "Delete" option when deleting a file in Windows Explorer. This permanently deletes selected files and folders, rather than dumping them into the Recycle Bin. However, be sure that you want those files and folders dead and gone, because once you do this, there's no turning back.
Another space-saving maintenance step is to regularly empty your Temporary Internet Files and other cache-type folders that programs (like your browser) use to store temporary information and browsing history. While temporary files and caches can improve performance and surfing speed, they can also use up hundreds of MB or even a GB or two if not regularly emptied. You can usually automate this in your browser's settings, or manually dump these, along with the Recycle Bin, using a utility like CCleaner.
Leave space for the Pagefile
The Pagefile is a type of virtual memory Windows uses to store data used by an idle application so that more space is freed up in the system's RAM. Advice on whether to turn the pagefile on or off varies wildly online but, odds are, you should leave it on unless you know exactly what you're doing. Try to set the pagefile in its own partition when possible. This means applications and data won't impinge on space the pagefile might need to use. Better yet, set it in a partition on a different physical drive than your boot drive.
More on the Pagefile
Moving the Pagefile calls for some digging around in the Control Panel (and will require admin privileges). Go to Control Panel-> System-> Advanced System Settings-> Advanced-> Performance-> Settings-> Advanced-> Virtual Memory-> Change. This will bring up a window listing all your partitions and any pagefiles located therein. You'll want to move the majority of your pagefile space to another drive partition, but will need to keep a minimum of 800MB pagefile on C:\ if you care about crash memory dumps. Select C:\ and then either set it to Custom Size 800MB (initial and maximum size) or no paging file. Click "set" to save and then go to the drive you want to allocate your pagefile to (In my case, K:\) and either set the pagefile size to "System Managed Size" or "Custom Size" (use the recommended setting that the window provides or check out the copious amounts of online lit for a custom setting). Save the settings, and then restart to have these changes take effect.
SSD Tip 1: No need to defragment!
Now we move on to solid state drives, which function differently from traditional HDDs and therefore require different optimization methods. One of the major changes is that defragmenting, which is an important maintenance habit to form when using HDDs, has little to no effect on an SSD and may actually reduce your drive's total lifespan with numerous small write operations. Windows should automatically disable scheduled defrags for a drive that it recognizes as an SSD but that isn't always the case. As a result, you may want to double check your defrag tools to ensure that it doesn't automatically schedule defrags for an SSD. You should still defrag your HDDs, though.
SSD Tip 2: Disable System Restore
There's plenty of online discussion as to the merits of System Restore on an SSD. Many online reports say a System Restore may markedly slow down SSD performance and interfere with the vital TRIM operation over time. You may want to turn off System Restore but be warned: the lack of a Restore point may make it harder to recover from things like a bad driver, install error, etc. You can still mitigate the risk to your data by regularly backing up with third party software, though. If you already do, turning off System Restore may reduce the number of write operations on an SSD (always a good thing for longevity) and free up some disk space to boot!
To turn off System Restore, go to Control Panel-> System-> System Protection-> Configure-> Turn off System Restore.
SSD Tip 3: Disable Drive Indexing
Drive Indexing allows for a jump in access speeds in a traditional hard disk but the effects are negligible with an SSD and may result in numerous unnecessary and small write operations (which again, reduce device lifespan). You can disable Drive Indexing and doing so is much less risky than disabling System Restore. To do so, right click on your SSD in Explorer and go to Properties. Un-check the box marked "Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed..." You may encounter a popup saying that there has been an error in applying attributes. This is normal. Ignore all, and continue on.
SSD Tip 4: Disable Prefetch & SuperFetch
SuperFetch and Prefetch cache frequently used programs and files, again, adding extra write operations. With the speed of SSDs, gains are minimal and, if you're concerned about drive longevity, you'll want to reduce unnecessary write operations. You can turn both of these off with the Registry Editor. Fair warning, when doing anything with Registry Editor, be absolutely sure with what you're doing and touch nothing else in the Registry to avoid complications.
Run regedit and select the file path: "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SessionManager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters" . Right-click on "EnablePrefetcher" and "EnableSuperFetch", select Modify, and change the values from 1 (or 3) to 0. Afterwards, restart.
SSD Tip 5: Disable Hibernation
Hibernation allows you to power down and quicklyrestore your session by saving the contents of RAM to the file Hyberfil.sys, with its size equivalent to your RAM. Desktop SSDs don't actually gain much with hibernation, as the boot cycle is already fast enough and the extraspace can be put to good use on smaller SSDs.
To disable Hibernation, type "cmd" in the start menu search box, right-click on cmd.exe, and select Run as Administrator. Then type "powercfg -h off" (no quotes), and press enter.
SSD Tip 6: Again with the Pagefile!
Finally, we return once more to the Pagefile. We've already recommended moving the Pagefile away from your boot drive and this goes doubly so if your boot drive is an SSD. Using a Pagefile requires many small read and write operations and we've already noted that these can reduce an SSD's lifespan. So, moving your Pagefile away from a boot SSD and onto, say, an old HD not only increases the efficiency of any pagefile, but will also reduce wear and tear on your precious solid state drive.
We've only listed easy and serviceable suggestions for tweaking HHDs and SSDs but there's a lot of good (and bad) advice floating around the web, so read up. For SSD users in particular, we'd like to recommend Tom's Hardware's SSD Optimization guide as well as The SSD Review's Optimization guide. if you know of any other good guides, feel free to share them in the comments section below! Next up are utilities that can help with drive benchmarks, defragging, partitioning, and other functions.
CrystalDiskMark, previously featured in our benchmarking software recommendations, is a no-nonsense utility that allows you to measure your drive's read and write speeds and other critical indicators. It's a tight, elegant utility with few bells and whistles, and is a great tool for measuring the performance of your drive.
CrystalDiskInfo, from the same developer as CrystalDiskMark, reads your drive's SMART (Self-Monitoring & Analysis Reporting Technology) information and presents it in a simple graphical form. As with its drive performance measuring sibling, CrystalDiskInfo is a light, no-nonsense program that elegantly presents the stuff you need to know about your machine's mechanical health.
Note that CrystalDiskInfo is bundled with OpenCandy, which will recommend extraneous programs to your install. CDI is a stand alone program and does not require any other programs on the side.
Parted Magic Livedisk
There are a plethora of tools out there for partition management and among the more popular ones is GParted. We've chosen to feature the Parted Magic Livedisk because it comes with the core elements of GParted as well as a whole host of other diagnostic tools and tests for hard disk and partition management and recovery. Parted Magic's light Linux-based kernel recognizes and can work with many file systems, including Windows NTFS, and is a great addition to an amateur or professional's toolkit of recovery and managementtools.
Parted Magic is donationware, so if you like this little program, feel free to donate to the developer to aid the maintenance and development of the program!
Piriform's Defraggler is a free defrag utility that allows you to defragment entire drives or even pinpoint specific files and folders to refragment. It contains options to shift large files to the end of the drive, making it easier for a hard drive to access smaller files more quickly, and the option to do Quick Defrags to save time. It also offers defrag scheduling operations to automate your hard drive maintenance. All of this is presented in a clean and neat interface that is great for power users and home consumers alike.
CCleaner is another excellent Piriform utility. The free disk cleaning utility clears the contents of your web browser's cache, history, and temporary internet files as well as cleaning the Recycle Bin, Registry, and more. Simple, free, and powerful, CCleaner is a great disk maintenance tool.
SSD Tweaker takes a lot of common advice for optimizing SSD performance in a Windows environment and places it all into a single program that allows you to run many of the tweaks mentioned in SSD optimization guides (such as Disable Large System Cache, Disable 8.3 filenames, Date Stamping, Prefetching and SuperFetching, and more) in an easy to use package. While you can execute many of these tweaks manually, SSD Tweaker puts them all in one place, saving you time and effort.
Have any HDD and SSD optimization tools that you feel should have been on the list? Have your own tips or tricks for getting more performance out of your hard disk or solid state drive? We'd like to read your thoughts in the comments section below!